Taiwan seeks high-level US visit

TAIPEI: Taiwan has invited Eric Shinseki, US secretary of veterans affairs, officials here said Tuesday, as the island aimed for the highest-level American visit in a decade.

Tseng Jing-ling, minister of Taiwan's Veteran Affairs Commission, confirmed the invitation during a parliamentary session on Monday, his aide told AFP.

Shinseki could travel to Taiwan as early as spring next year for a symposium on veteran issues, an area that is not considered politically sensitive and therefore more palatable to China, the United Daily News said.

He would be the first cabinet-level US official to arrive in Taiwan since a visit in 2000 by Rodney Slater, transportation secretary in the Bill Clinton administration.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but has remained a key ally and a leading arms supplier to the island.

The triangular relationship between China, the United States and Taiwan was strained under the island's former president Chen Shui-bian who often irked Washington and Beijing with policies pushing for formal independence.

Ties have improved markedly after Chen was succeeded by Ma Ying-jeou last year, becoming the least confrontational president in the island's history as a de facto separate country.

However, Beijing still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, and it opposes official foreign contacts with the island, which split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.